Before Jerry Falwell Jr.'s resignation from Liberty, a group of Black alumni, former athletes and pastors asked at least one of the school's 2020 football opponents if it would 'take a stand'
'Doing nothing can truly give the appearance of not caring or being complicit to racial issues which impact us all.'
In early June, seven members of North Carolina State University’s administration and athletic department, including Chancellor Dr. Randy Woodson, Athletic Director Boo Corrigan and football coach Dave Doeren, received an email from Eric Carroll, a 1991 Liberty University alumnus and former Liberty football player who is now a pastor. Carroll, who is Black, challenged NC State, asking the university’s administrators if they would “take a stand” against the actions of the now-former university president of one of the Wolfpack’s future football opponents – Liberty’s Jerry Falwell Jr.
The subject line of the email was “Racial tension and backlash for NC State athletics,” but the target of the email was Falwell Jr., who since resigned from his position in August.
“This email is being sent because of the concern that I and others have about our alma mater and the reputation of NC State University and NC State athletics within the African-American community in the state of Virginia and throughout the United States,” Carroll wrote. “With the racial tension in our country at possibly an all-time high, all Universities and Colleges have to be concerned about associating themselves with persons or groups that don’t uphold the standards of fair and equity treatment (sic) of all people regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender or national origin.
“I am ashamed to say that Liberty University is in the midst of yet another racially divisive situation brought on by the careless words and actions of the President of our school, Jerry Falwell Jr.”
In late May of this year, Falwell Jr. tweeted – and later deleted – a racist picture of someone in a Ku Klux Klan robe and another person depicted in blackface, according to NPR, as part of a critique of mask orders in the state of Virginia. NPR reported the picture originated from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook from 1984. Last year after the photo was discovered, Northam admitted that he was one of the two people in the picture.
On June 1, 2020, a group of Liberty University alumni and Black ministry leaders, including Carroll, sent a letter to Falwell Jr. that expressed that they were “disappointed and deeply grieved by your rhetoric over the past several years.” In Carroll’s email to members of NC State’s administration and athletic department, he said roughly 35 Black pastors, alumni and former athletes were behind the letter to Falwell Jr.
Full copies of the letter and Carroll’s email to NC State administrators are available at the end of this newsletter. Out of Bounds sent Carroll a text message and an email for comment, but neither was returned.
That’s not necessarily surprising given events that took place over the summer.
There was public discord between Liberty, Carroll and a local newspaper in June
In late June, there was public discord between Liberty, Carroll and the Richmond, Virginia-based newspaper The News & Advance. Richard Chumney, a reporter for The News & Advance, reported a story that was published on June 25, titled, “Former Liberty University official raises more than $18,000 to help Black employees leave the school.” The story addressed how former Liberty director of diversity retention LeeQuan McLaurin, who resigned after Falwell Jr.’s racist tweet, had raised nearly $20,000 to help Black university employees leave the school.
When interviewed for the story, Carroll told The News & Advance, “For a university our size, we should have a lot more representation for African Americans and other ethnic minorities and we just don’t have it. And that’s by choice. I refuse to believe that it’s just that nobody wants to apply.”
McLaurin, the director of diversity retention, shared internal enrollment figures with The News & Advance that reportedly showed the percent of Black undergraduate students at Liberty had declined from 10 percent in 2007 to roughly four percent in 2018.
Liberty’s Office of Communications & Public Engagement then published a public response to The News & Advance’s story, which included a comment from Carroll saying that he was misquoted in the story.
Chumney, the reporter from The News & Advance, countered by sharing an audio recording of the interview on Twitter, which showed that he accurately quoted Carroll.
Carroll apologized to Liberty for the comment he made to The News & Advance, telling a university spokesman in an email that “I was angry when I spoke.” Liberty’s official university Twitter account shared the email that Carroll sent to the university, in which he said that he got the interview with The News & Advance confused with another interview that he said he had with different reporter, which was his explanation for why he said he was misquoted.
“I love Liberty University and I very much regret this ordeal,” Carroll wrote in the email.
Why is NC State even playing a game against Liberty in late November?
Liberty is one of six independent college football programs at the FBS level, which means the university is responsible for filling an entire slate of opponents every season, rather than benefiting from a conference schedule that would provide eight or nine opponents annually. The Flames’s 2020 football schedule most notably includes road games against ACC opponents Syracuse, Virginia Tech and NC State, which are games that typically come with a notable payday and increased media exposure – especially if Liberty wins.
The Flames are 2-for-2 against ACC opponents so far this season, winning 38-21 at Syracuse and beating Virginia Tech 38-35 on a last-second field goal.
A contract amendment signed between NC State and Liberty in late October, which was obtained by Out of Bounds, states that NC State will pay Liberty a game guarantee of $1.1 million – $550,000 paid by Feb. 15, 2021, followed by another $550,000 paid by July 15 – for the Flames’s participation in their game scheduled for Saturday.
For comparison, Liberty’s game against UMass, which is part of a four-year series between the two independent programs, doesn’t have any financial guarantees for either school.
So, Liberty will cash a few million dollars in game guarantees from Power Five opponents this season and if the Flames keep winning, they’ll continue rising in the polls. This season is the first time in program history that Liberty has been ranked in the AP Top 25 poll and the team is ranked No. 21 in the country entering Week 12, following an 8-0 start to the season.
All of this context is important to understand the email from Carroll, the former Liberty free safety-turned-pastor, who was listed by the Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia) as one of the team’s top returning players in August 1990. Thirty years later, he implored NC State’s chancellor, athletic director and football coach to take a stand against his alma mater, which is now ranked as one of the 25 best teams in the country.
‘Because of your callous rhetoric, we can no longer in good faith encourage students to attend our alma mater or accept athletic scholarships’
In the letter that Carroll and other Black ministry leaders sent to Falwell Jr., they said his racist tweet made light of the country’s history of slavery.
“While your tweet may have been in-jest about Virginia’s Governor, it made light of our nation’s painful history of slavery and racism, and it was a distasteful embodiment of what we’re called to reject as followers of Christ,” wrote the letter’s authors.
On the second page of the two-and-a-half-page letter, the authors wrote, “Unfortunately, it has become obvious to many that your heart is in politics more than Christian academia or ministry, so we would encourage you to leave the position of school president and pursue politics full-time.”
They wrote that Falwell Jr.’s statements hurt the ability of Liberty alumni to get jobs and that having the university’s name on their resumes can be a “liability.”
One of the final paragraphs stated, “Because of your callous rhetoric, we can no longer in good faith encourage students to attend our alma mater or accept athletic scholarships. There are many Christians of color who worship in our churches and communities; we will not recommend their attendance at L.U. as long as you continue the unChristian rhetoric.”
On Aug. 25, Falwell Jr. left his position as school president, resigning after posting a photo on Instagram of him and a woman, who’s not his wife, with their pants unzipped on vacation, and after Reuters reported that a former business associate of the Falwells claimed to have had a sexual relationship with Falwell Jr.’s wife, Becki, while Falwell Jr. watched.
So, five months and two public scandals ago for Falwell, NC State administrators were asked if they would “take a stand” against an upcoming football opponent – an opponent with whom the Wolfpack had willingly scheduled a game.
“Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Jerry Falwell Jr. has engaged in such language and behavior and the impact has divided our school and galvanized African-Americans associated with this school,” Carroll wrote to NC State’s administrators. “This behavior has also impacted current student athletes at Liberty University and at your university.”
He provided them with a link to a change.org petition, which is no longer active but it included “LUDeservesBetter” in the URL. Carroll’s email said that the petition had received 34,000 signatures in the first five days. “Some of those who signed are current and future students and athletes of NC State University,” he wrote. “The impact could be felt at your stadium with protest and within your own locker room with the sentiment of ‘why are we playing a school where racism is acceptable based on the actions of the President of school?’”
It’s unclear if Carroll was warning NC State of a possible protest from within the Wolfpack’s own locker room, or if he was suggesting that the Wolfpack consider actively protesting in order to voice their opinion on a social justice matter, as so many athletes have done since the summer.
But either way, Carroll’s email suggested that there could be potential runoff from the public and private discontent directed towards Liberty, which could potentially affect Liberty’s athletic opponents, too.
Does Liberty’s athletic future change after Jerry Falwell Jr.’s resignation?
Carroll’s email to NC State administrators and the letter that was sent to Falwell Jr. add more ammunition the conversation about Liberty University and “sportswashing,” which is a concept previously written about by Sportico and News Break. The essence of sportswashing is that a governing body or organization uses sports to make its brand more mainstream and “acceptable,” despite its controversial policies and actions.
News Break reported, “‘Sportswashing’ is a term typically associated with Middle Eastern countries accused of human rights violations trying to manipulate their international image through positive associations with sports teams.”
While the term wasn’t explicitly used in a USA TODAY column published in August about Liberty after Falwell Jr.’s resignation, the column dances around many of the same principles.
“So, I ask you,” Carroll wrote in the final paragraph of his email to NC State, “is this something that you want to show complicit support for [or] will you take a stand?”
He closed with, “Doing nothing can truly give the appearance of not caring or being complicit to racial issues which impact us all.”
Initially, the email caught NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson off-guard.
“It’s not clear what we are being asked to do here other then (sic) encouraging us to be supportive of our Black athletes and giving them the freedom to sign this petition,” Woodson wrote to NC State Athletic Director Boo Corrigan. “Has something happened that I missed? The letter is condemning the President of Liberty U, which I completely get. The intersection with us is not as clear other than the clear need for us to support our Black students.”
Corrigan reminded Woodson that NC State has a game scheduled against Liberty and he said he would reach out to a couple other schools that had scheduled a game against Liberty to see if they received the same letter from Carroll. Corrigan also said he talked with football coach Dave Doeren the night that NC State administrators received the email.
“Not sure we need to act immediately but will keep it on top of the file,” Corrigan wrote.
Out of Bounds sent an email to a media relations representative for all three of Liberty’s ACC opponents this season to ask if they’ve had any concerns about scheduling games against Liberty based on the university’s policies or the actions of any current or former administrators. Out of Bounds also asked Syracuse and Virginia Tech if the schools were contacted by the group of Liberty alumni, and if they were, if they responded to the group or took any action.
The week after Virginia Tech hosted Liberty, a Virginia Tech spokesman said he wasn’t aware of any Liberty alumni who reached out to the school.
“If such an inquiry was directed to Athletics, it would have likely been forwarded to me,” Associate Athletics Director Pete Moris said in an email. He said he couldn’t specifically answer about whether Virginia Tech has ever had any concerns with scheduling Liberty.
“I’m not necessarily involved in the scheduling process per se,” he said.
NC State and Syracuse did not respond.
Falwell Jr.’s resignation could slow, if not stem, the tide for calls to action against Liberty – at least in the world of college athletics – including from some of the university’s own alumni and former athletes. It could also decrease the likelihood that Liberty’s opponents, such as NC State and its ACC peers, face any questions or scrutiny for their role in scheduling games against the Flames, which is something Carroll referenced in his letter.
If Liberty – with or without Falwell Jr. as its university president – ever became or becomes persona non-grata on opponents’ athletic schedules, particularly in football, it would greatly hinder the university’s attempt to climb as an athletic department and national brand. As an FBS independent, Liberty needs as many schools as possible, especially those with deep pockets and big platforms, to be willing to schedule future games with the Flames.
You may have watched Liberty-Syracuse in Week 7 or Liberty-Virginia Tech in Week 10, and you might watch Liberty play at NC State in Week 12. Just a hunch, but you probably didn’t watch Liberty play North Alabama in Week 5 or UL Monroe in Week 6.
It’s probably a safe bet, too, that wins against the latter group of opponents didn’t impress the College Football Playoff selection committee much, either, as Liberty attempts to maximize the quality of bowl game for which it can receive a bid, especially if it finishes the regular season undefeated.
Big wins, such as a potential sweep of three ACC opponents this season, plus an upcoming matchup against No. 15 Coastal Carolina, can lead to higher rankings, more publicity and bigger bowl games, which could potentially pave the way for Liberty to join a conference for football in a future round of conference realignment.
But big wins are contingent on the ability to schedule big opponents, and if at least one of Liberty’s 2020 opponents was asked to take a stand against the Flames by members of Liberty’s own alumni, including former Liberty athletes, then it’s probably safe to assume that in the next round of conference expansion – whenever and wherever that happens – that the questions asked of a conference’s membership would ring much louder and from even more corners if Liberty is involved.
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The letter sent to Jerry Falwell Jr.
The email sent by Eric Carroll to NC State administrators
Recap of the last newsletter
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“Marshall will be paid $7.5 million in the form of 156 equal payments of $48,076.92, which will be paid every two weeks for six years, starting Dec. 11, 2020. He will also receive $250,000 from Wichita State as consideration for him signing the release of ADEA claims.”
Thank you for reading this edition of Out of Bounds with Andy Wittry. If you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it on social media or sending it to a friend or colleague. Questions, comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.